Arts & Entertainment

Meet the Manong Guard in Escolta who loves art

He unconsciously developed a passion for art and he doesn't take your bullsh*t.
IMAGE 98B
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Who says art is only for the elite? For Manny Soriano, working as a security guard for 26 years at the Panpisco building in Escolta has allowed him, perhaps inadvertently, to grow an appreciation for art.

Passersby are often surprised at Panpisco. Instead of the usual commercial merchandise, the old wing is fronted with art exhibits—a peculiar sight when you're walking along the grimy streets of Escolta. Established in 2014 by an artist group called 98B COLLABoratory, the art space is called PAN/ / / and because they're store fronts, you only need to walk by to admire them, any day and time of the year.

You realize just how impossible it is for Mr. Soriano to avoid this free art show, which 98B changes every two months. He is witnessed not just to this burgeoning art scene, but also the the artists. He has observed how hardworking they are, toiling from morning until night, spending money on the materials. Even when they're exhausted, they still continue—despite school or even their actual jobs. "Interesado talaga sila sa kanilang ginagawa (They are really interested in what they are doing)," he said. "Pinapaghirapan nila para magawa ang kanilang obra (They work hard to finish their art)."

Mr. Soriano also gets to interact with the people in Escolta as he is often pelted with questions about the artworks. Instead of answering them directly, however, Mr. Soriano has a unique way of engaging them. Once, the exhibit featured a sculpture of a security guard next to a pile of gold bars ("Paranoia of the Plutocrats" by Lindslee). One person, he recalls, asked him if the gold was real. He nodded yes, and the person persisted with, "If those bars are [real], then somebody would have broken in already." Mr. Soriano's reply: "Alam ninyo pala sir eh, bakit ninyo pa tinatanong (It seems like you know it already, sir, so why did you even ask)?"

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"Paranoia of the Plutocrats"

“Expression ng artist ang ginagawa niya kaya hindi naman pwedeng walang sense ang ginagawa niya. Kasi kung walang kwenta yun ginagawa ng artist para sa iyo mahina ang pagintindi mo. (Art is an artist's expression so it's impossible that it has no sense. If the art is useless for you it means that your understanding is weak.)."

In another instance, the art displayed coal that were stuck together ("Residuum" by Joseph Gabriel), and someone asked him how the coal were able to hold up. Instead of immediately revealing the obvious, that they were stuck together by some cohesive substance, he told that person that if he starts thinking from this moment, up until he gets home, he will come up with the answer.

It seems almost obnoxious, but Mr. Soriano stresses the importance of thinking."Gusto mo sabihin na lang, ayaw mo mag-isip. Kapag ganyan kawawa ka. Dapat mag-isip tayo (You want to be simply told. You don't want to think. If you're like that, you are pitiful. We have to think)." He explained that artists spend so much time thinking about their artworks, and so we should also take time to think about them as well.


"Residuum"

For Marika Constantino, 98B's executive director, the most memorable quote that Mr. Soriano said was, “Expression ng artist ang ginagawa niya kaya hindi naman pwedeng walang sense ang ginagawa niya. Kasi kung walang kwenta yun ginagawa ng artist para sa iyo mahina ang pagintindi mo. (Art is an artist's expression so it's impossible that it has no sense. If the art is useless for you it means that your understanding is weak.)."

This is a refreshing perspective given that many still feel frustrated about art and blame the artist for their own frustrations. Yet, here is a security guard who thinks that ordinary people can and should make an effort to understand art, or at least think about it. It fits with 98B's principles.

"We try to engage people from different walks of life, most especially those who may at the onset feel that these disciplines are far from their level of understanding," said Ms. Constantino. "We believe that everyone, not just those from the upper echelons of society, can and should have an appreciation for art. We can have our own varied ways of understanding." 

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PAN/// is at G/F Panpisco Building, 246 Escolta, Manila. For more information, check out 98B on Facebook and Instagram.

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Jasmine Agnes T. Cruz
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